The prize was presented on behalf of the Ministry of Human Resources and Development to Edward Lobo, Director of the Manasa Center, for its service to children with physical and mental disabilities.
Manasa Center is run by “Sabha,” a society present in 150 parishes of the Mangalore diocese to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the Catholic community.
Christians and Muslims increasingly are persecuted in parts of India, even in the heavily Catholic state of Kerala. In some places conversion to Christianity is banned under penalty of law. India’s ruling nationalist Hindu party is widely believed responsible.
On the one hand, part of the phenomenon reflects India’s hostility toward its decades-old rival, Islamic Pakistan, which, together with Islamic Bangladesh, once formed part of India. Both India and Pakistan appear to possess nuclear weapons and have threatened to use them. Violent clashes along the Kashmir border between armies of both nations have brought the world to the edge of its seat. As a peace gesture, Pakistan at one point sent relief to victims of an Indian earthquake. Pakistan contains over 100 million people. India, with nearly 1 billion, has been called ‘the world’s largest democracy.’
On the other hand India, evangelized increasingly since St. Francis Xavier and other Jesuit missionaries arrived in the 1500’s, has seen thousands of its dalits (“pariah” or “untouchable” class Indians) convert to Christianity, escaping the lowest rung of the traditional Hindu caste system. Hindu nationalists are not amused.
Manasa Center opened in 1991 as a school for kids with mental disabilities, becoming a home and rehabilitation center as well. In 1997 the center offered help 47 children – today it helps 155 kids from throughout Karnataka State.
Boys are taught manual jobs while girls learn to paint greetings cards. All participate in sports. In the 2002 National Games for Disabled Children (India’s version of the “Special Olympics”) Manasa Center competitors took home 14 medals: five gold and four silver. As if this were little, six kids Manasa Center are now mainstreamed, attending ordinary schools.
With the attention brought to Indian Christianity India by the recent celebrations of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s beatification, the Indian government may be trying to rehabilitate its image in the eyes of the international community.